Ki Tetze



Every Shabbat morning, I act as the "Weaver" for an hour’s conversation about a passage from the Torah reading of that Shabbat. This past Shabbat, as I read the weekly portion, looking for a passage we could focus on, I had ringing in my ears and in my heart the president's announcement that he had ordered a mass round-up of immigrants living in clusters in several major American cities, for mass deportation.

So I was happy to find that in the very Torah portion we were about to read, the Torah was already prepared with a challenge to this piece of subjugation:

 “Now when immigrants sojourn with you and wish to make a Passover-offering to YHWH  / Yahhh/the Holy InterBreath of Life, in this way shall they make it: according to the law of the Passover offering and according to its regulation. One law is there to be for you, for immigrant sojourners and for the natives of the land.” (Num 9: 14)

My understanding of this teaching is that if foreigners want to join with you in the Festival of Freedom, in celebrating the liberation of slaves from slavery to Pharaoh, welcome them! –for only by affirming one law for foreigners and natives can your land continue as a land of Freedom. 


And this passage reminded me to look up another passage from a Torah portion we will be reading in mid-September:

“If those who are oppressed {“serfs,” “servants,” slaves”} seek refuge with you from their masters, you are NOT to hand them over to their masters. Let them dwell beside you, among you, wherever within your borders seems good to them. Do not mistreat them!!” (Deut. 23:16-17)


Do I invoke these ancient texts just because they are written in Torah?  No, I invoke them because they show that this question of the treatment we owe to immigrants and refugees has stirred the moral heart of our communities for at least 2500 years, and our moral forebears came down on the side of love, not fear.

The community in which this writing emerged saw itself as a whole nation of runaway slaves seeking freedom. So it was clear that other runaway slaves and all who celebrated freedom from Pharaoh’s slavery were to be welcomed, not excluded.  And notice that this applied to “economic refugees” fleeing a tyrannical boss as well as those fleeing a tyrannical government.

If we wish to see America as “sweet land of liberty” we must be open to these freedom-seeking immigrants and refugees, welcoming them to wherever THEY choose to live.

Not deported, not imprisoned in concentration camps, not tearing children, even babies,  from their mothers’ breasts, their fathers’ arms, to throw them into cages.

Oh yes, these ARE concentration camps. Not extermination camps, not yet. Those politicians who have denounced the use of that word as if it meant the same as “death camp” ignore the history that genocide happens in stages. Here is my analysis of where we are in that process:


  1. I think it is a mistake to have a linguistic debate over what label to apply to these detention centers for immigrants by -- on the one hand -- denouncing the use of the word  “ concentration camp” as if it were the same as “death camp,”  or -- on the other hand -- supporting the use of the words and explaining they are NOT the same as “death camps.”   BOTH THESE APPROACHES AVOID FACING THE TRUTH that dehumanization and ultimately genocide come in stages. “Concentration camps” may come early or in the middle of the process. If no one interrupts the process, it moves forward into death camps. The Nazi state opened the first “concentration camp” at Dachau in 1933 as a prison mostly for leftists. Humiliation and dehumanization of Jews and other "Untermenschen" went forward in many scattered spheres until the massive public attacks supported by the state on Kristallnacht. Even then, it took the years from 1938 to 1942 for the Nazis to make a formal decision to murder all the Jews of Europe.

Dehumanization and genocide are a process, not a single event. Most Americans so much want to believe that “it can’t happen here” that many of their minds go blank in facing the early and middle stages of the process, and desperately want to attack any language that hints that this process is under way and will continue unless we, they, act,. .

3, The Trumpists have taken step after step on that path, from Trump’s Hitlerian rhetoric on the down elevator in Trump Tower when he announced he was running, to the deliberate attacks on children -- and beyond.. Since the deepest instinct of every species is to protect its offspring, the only way some human beings can be persuaded to take part in or permit the destruction of human children is precisely to do that destruction, thereby proving those particular children are not human. So even if this project is especially difficult to carry out against opposition, it is crucial to the whole process to carry it out anyway.

  1. The planned mass deportations can only be carried out by defining certain neighborhoods and communities inside the United States – – in 10 major cities – – as really outside the American border and making war on those neighborhoods.   I think this may be the “Kristallnacht” moment in the process, or maybe just one stage less.  If that is allowed to happen,  the process will keep going. The two-week delay that Trump announced was probably a response to warnings from ICE that they simply did not have the manpower to carry it out. Several months ago, when the leadership of DHS said the same thing to Trump, he fired them. If I were Trump (God forbid), I would think the obvious solution is to use the U.S. Army. Plenty of manpower there. Illegal, of course, but that did not prevent his using them on the border. Maybe using them in NYC, Chicago, etc etc is still a bridge too far.
  1. This march toward genocide of brown-skinned folks who speak Spanish is not the only target for Trumpist subjugation. The list is long. It includes starving Iran into submission, after throwing away a remarkable diplomatic achievement in the nuclear disarmament of Iran, instead setting up a situation geared for war. . It includes the abuse of women, both personal and political. It includes the efforts to murder many millions of human beings and many other species that are crucial to Homo Sapiens,  for the sake of Hyper-Profits for the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs, and perhaps for the sheer joy of subjugation. That one has so far been the most successful and the least opposed.
  1. I think it is time to take Sifrei Torah into the streets. And Communion. And salat –Muslim prayer services. And Buddhist bells and drums. Into the streets and into the offices of Congressmembers and ICE. And the fence around the White House.  Please keep in mind that the great surge in support of the Green New Deal came when 150 young people sat-in on Speaker Pelosi’s office.  I do not believe that it is any longer sufficient to visit the concentration camps. We and the public now know how evil they are.  The focal point should now be the seats of power and the places that carry out their orders for arrest and deportation raids.

Because this dehumanization happens in stages, it can be stopped before it reaches genocide. Stopped IF we act. That is our job. Our religious commitment. Our moral obligation. Our spiritual fulfillment.

 Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! --  Arthur

ICE: Brutal and Brittle

Can We Melt it Down?

Let me invite you first to watch two different 3-minute videos of how The Shalom Center and I joined in the effort to heal the bodies and souls wounded by the Trumpist policy of ripping apart families at the US_Mexico border.  Then I will share with you the story of why we did this.

At you can see and hear the video of my briefly speaking to the police officers who were about to arrest us for blocking the entrance to the ICE office in Philadelphia..

 At <> you can see and hear my speaking in a vigil at the Berks County PA prison where fathers and children who had legally applied for asylum have been sent to rot their lives away.

 *** *** *** ***

The Shalom Center and I continue to see the climate crisis as the most profoundly important issue facing the human species. We believe that Jewish wisdom –-  especially in the Hebrew Bible, the spiritual teachings of an indigenous people – bears vital wisdom for healing Earth today. And we believe that the American religious communities are the sleepy, yawning giant that could – if awakened – transform US policy toward healing our badly wounded planet.

So why did we, and I, take a serious chunk of time during June and July away from working on the climate crisis --  time to address the brutal and sadistic child-kidnapping policy of the present US government?

Three reasons:

  • Because there was no time to lose to free those children from their trauma that worsened every day, every hour,  they were still ripped away from their families;
  • Because in my assessment the cruelty was a deliberate effort to dehumanize brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people – the  “Kristalnacht” step on a path that points toward genocide;
  • Because the same arrogant cruelty that was at the heart of this kidnapping was at the heart of subjugating Mother Earth and tormenting us all – first and worst the poor -- with droughts,  famines, fires, floods.  

So on June 27, half a dozen rabbis, including two from The Shalom Center, joined teachers, clergy, labor leaders, and others at a children’s prison on the US-Mexico border.  Children in cages. After all, these brown kids were not really human: Cages like the zoo. Why not?

We brought Spanish-language children’s books, teddy bears, ourselves  –- for us to share with the kids. “No visits,” said the guards.   “All right, will you guards deliver these?”  “No gifts,” said the guards.  For these “baby animals” -- mere animals in the Trumpist worldview, even though that could talk, weep, wail ---- there were to be no instruments of learning. Or of yearning. No teddy bears for comfort. Only cages.

The leaders of the trip decided against a sit-down right then and there. So we returned to Philadelphia, burning with sorrow and anger.

We helped bring together a pick-up team of veteran activists that challenged ICE – the increasingly brutal enforcers of Trumpist policy to deport immigrants and refugees, and along with the Border Patrol responsible to carry out orders to kidnap children from their families.

Why do I say “kidnap”?  Because we know now they did not bother to take information on the children’s identities. The plan was never to reunite them with their parents. Even under a court-ordered deadline, they “could not” reunify some of the families.

This kidnap was not a mistake, any more than Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, shattered synagogues, murdered and bloodied Jews in Nazi-controlled Germany in 1938 was a mistake. Kristallnacht  was the act and the signal to say that Jews were not human beings. In the same vein,  to kidnap kids and shatter families was such a violation of human feelings that it was intended to signal that Spanish-speaking brown-skinned people were not human.

If it had worked, anything could have happened from then on. Immigrants who for decades had been welcomed into the US armed forces could be summarily discharged for no reason. (That is actually happening.) They could be told that even formal naturalization as citizens could be reversed. (Proposals on the table, but not yet.)  Prison camps for thousands could be set up on military bases. (Already under way.)

But unlike Germans in 1938, millions of American resisted--  Anglos and Latinos, brown and white and black.

What is more, we are winning victories. Here in Philadelphia, some important victories

Back home, we met with our dedicated, joyful pick-up band of 60 nonviolent protesters. Two days later, on June 29, we blocked the ICE office in Philadelphia for two hours. Then six of us were arrested. All of us more than 70 years old. The police were polite.

 At you can see and hear the video of my brief speaking to the police officers who were about to arrest us.

A week later a larger band actually occupied the ICE offices. When they were dispersed, the police acted much rougher.  The occupation sit-in moved to City Hall, adding protests at the rough dispersal to protest of the city’s assistance to ICE.

What assistance? Access, till then unknown to most of the public, to Philadelphia’s data base of people arrested or arraigned for minor offenses – data that ICE then used to deport them.

The drumbeat of resistance grew. And finally, Philadelphia’s Mayor Kenney announced that the city will not renew its contract with ICE when it expires at the end of this August. That is an important victory for human decency. It happened only because dozens of us risked arrest, sat in, sat down --

The target broadened. In Berks County PA, only 70 miles from Philadelphia, is a former welfare center for family healing that has been turned into a prison for asylum-seeking fathers and kids.

At <> you can see and hear my speaking in a vigil at the Berks County PA prison for fathers and children who had legally applied for asylum. I was among five rabbis who were there among a large band of protesters to call for the refugee-family prison there to be turned into a family-support healing center, and for the imprisoned families to be released while their applications for asylum were assessed.

The Governor of Pennsylvania could end the imprisonment of refugees and immigrants in Berks County. So far, he has failed to do so.

 U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, who issued the court order that all the kidnapped children be reunited with their parents by a date now past, could hold in contempt the high officials who failed to obey the order.  So far, he has failed to do so.

 The House of Representatives could impeach the key actors in this cruel parade of “high crimes and misdemeanors”: White House chief of staff John Kelly, close presidential aide Stephen Miller, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Attorney-General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. So far, the House has failed to explore this possibility. (The Constitution specifies that “all Civil Officers of the United States” can be impeached.  This includes White House assistants. See <>.  There may be a majority of the House that, while unwilling to impeach the President, might be willing to focus on the specific officials who carried out this cruelty.)

A swiftly growing network of activists and Congressmembers are calling for the “abolition” of ICE.  The campaign to do this goes to the heart of what US immigration and refugee policy should be.  There is a serious danger that as the orders ICE is given become more cruel, people with a strong bent toward cruel behavior are attracted to become ICE officers, and people who feel a much stronger tug toward compassion than toward cruelty leave in disgust. If this is already happening, abolishing ICE and starting over would make sense.

The demand to do that may help focus immigration activism and lead to broader change. But that demand really needs to be matched with proposals for a whole new system of compassionate immigration law.

Torah’s law of refugees and asylum is this (Deut, 23: 15-16):

You are not to hand over to their masters
A serf [slave or indentured servant] who has sought asylum with you
From their master.

"Let them dwell beside you,
Among you,
In the place that they choose
Within your gates
That seems good to them.

"Do not mistreat them!”

What if it were adopted by American society  -- not because  it is Torah but because it accords with our sense of justice and compassion?

A Shabbat Shalom in Action

The 40th Day: Birthing the Poor Peoples Campaign.

A Letter from Rabbis Arthur Waskow & Phyllis Berman

[Rabbi Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. Rabbi Berman founded and for 37 years directed an innovative and intensive school for adult immigrants and refugees from all around the wprld to learn English and America, and has a special concern about attacks on immigrants and refugees by the present US government.]

Dear friends,

The two of us had an extraordinary Shabbat day before yesterday (June 23) in Washington DC, from two perspectives: a Jewish perspective on the vision and work of the Poor Peoples Campaign, and the wonderfully multi-issue, multi-“identity” fusion vision and work of the Poor Peoples Campaign itself.   It was the 40th day and the culmination of the nation-wide work so far, which involved  thousands in nonviolent civil disobedience  in state capitals all across the country.  This day was intended to be a beginning, not an end. 

As Rabbi Jeff Roth taught us, the recurrent "״"40 motif in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels may be rooted in the real length of human pregnancy –- 40 weeks, not 9 months. So the Poor Peoples Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival  began with Mother’s Day and lasted 40 days of pregnant maturation, to be born for a new life yesterday as a continuing movement. 

The Jewish perspective first:  Since the Poor Peoples Campaign had chosen a Saturday for this action, the Reform movement could have chosen either to keep hands totally off (which for some years had been their stance on social-justice actions called for Shabbat) or to enter with a strong Jewish action that flowed from Shabbat and into Shabbat. Their choice did a lot to bring Jewish and even more multireligious and spiritual depth and breadthinto the Poor Peoples Campaign action. We say "even more" because all along, the Poor People's Campaign has shaped itself as a "National Call to Moral Revival."

The Reform movement's Temple Sinai Erev Shabbat service and the 45-minute Shabbat morning service sponsored  by their Religious Action Center were rich and creative. (Full disclosure of one dimension of why we felt good about it: : On Friday evening, to our utter surprise,  Rabbi Jonah Pesner, head of the RAC, singled Arthur out among clergy present for having been a prophetic voice long ago and still. That certainly felt  good.)   

There was fine singing, and pointed comments from old or new tradition (e.g.  a passage from Michael Walzer about living everywhere in some version of "Egypt";  Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Ahavah rabbah).  As part of the service Friday night, Reverend Barber gave a brilliant sermon on the various aspects of what the Poor Peoples Campaign is doing.  And after he spoke, all the multireligious clergy present (lots!!) were invited to come up and physically bless Rev. Barber with the Priestly Blessing, Birkat Kohanim. Incredibly powerful moment!  

 For  Shabbos morning, for the 45-minute pre-Rally Shabbat service a multitude of rabbis and Rev. Liz Theoharis, the co-chair of Poor Peoples Campaign, were given  roles --  each of the rabbis in tiny slivers, so that many could take part. Arthur was invited to lead the Torah blessings. It seemed to be not an opportunity to teach in any way, till Phyllis suggested he use his responsibility for the Barchu and the brochas to teach the meaning of our new forms of the Brachot, and that we have ready a leaflet with our alternative version of them so that people could use them if they wished. 

So that’s what we did, and he was able to get across at least a hint of why “Ruach Ha'Olam” ("Breathing Spirit of the wprld") instead of “Melech Ha'Olam” (”King of the world") and “Yahhhh” (simply a breathing sound) instead of “Adonai, Lord.” About half the aliyah-niks – called up for one Aliyah honoring people who had done nonviolent civil disobedience for the Poor Peoples Campaign --  used the alternative version of the brochas. 

Then Arthur added one more piece. Why, he asked,  are we doing “Barchu” (the prayer "Let us bless," calling us into community) for the Torah service anyway, after doing it already at the beginning of the Service? Aren’t we already a community? He said it was to teach us that becoming a community is not a one-shot deal, like getting onto a plateau and that’s it. We have to keep growing into an ever fuller community. 

And then he  said that in our case, for our day, we need to grow our community to include Central American families who are fleeing terrible violence,  and he quoted the Torah verse that prohibits sending runaway slaves or serfs back to their masters –- instead,  they must be allowed to live anywhere they choose “within our gates.”  And the Torah adds, "Do not maltreat them!" (Deut. 23: 15-16)  There was a strong murmur of support for that. 

After the brief morning service,  the Poor Peoples Campaign began its “rally” around the 5 major issue-clusters it had proclaimed. Direct front-line victims / survivors spoke.  That was really great.  PPC really tried to and mostly did join “a face” with “a fact.” That is, it was in many ways a multi-issue teach-in, focusing on facts of poverty, racial oppression, eco-devastation, etc., each spoken by someone who was suffering in the result.  Live-streamed nationally & internationally. Interspersed with songs from great social-justice choirs. 

Then there was a two-hour march around the Smithsonian campus. The march was itself a community. We met up with friends from Philadelphia who had come to DC that morning and with a number of people whom Arthur had known when he lived in DC 30+ years ago, and we made connections with folks we had never met before.


Last time we took part in a Poor Peoples Campaign action,  the heat and long walk had exhausted Arthur before we could get to the arrest site. So this time we borrowed a light-weight foldable wheel chair from a temporary-lending collection of the Germantown Jewish Centre.  Phyllis was the chief wheel-pusher, AND a number of people --  some good friends from Philly, some total strangers -- were wonderful about taking a turn to push. Community-building is the destination, community-building is the path.

Tonight, the two of us are flying to El Paso TX to visit one of the refugee child “detention centers” (prisons).   The delegation we are in includes several other rabbis and other clergy. It is being organized by the American Federation of Teachers out of the commitment of teachers to childreen, and its president, Randi Weingarten, will take part. . We’ll write more afterward.

In our joy over this wonderful birthing of the next stage, let us not forget the pain of children and their families ripped apart at the border, not yet reunited. Please link to <> to sign a petition for reuniting them NOW, and for making asylum a reality, as the Bible, US law, treaties the US ratified, and the best instincts of the American people all require. "You who have fled your beloved homes for fear of horrifying violence, come live where you choose within our gates."

May the week ahead be filled with our creating sparks of holiness as we respond to lightning flashes of cruelty---

Shalom,  Phyllis & Arthur

Families Torn Apart: : A Lightning-Flash of Cruelty in Power

The Lightning Flash that Reveals our Hidden Cruelties and Lights our Way to Compassionate Action

 The American people have stood up! – against an encroaching tyranny that has been forced to take one tiny step not even back, but to one side. Indeed, it is even now moving ripped-away children without adequate ID. They may never be reunited with their famiies. Disgusting! The struggle for justice and compassion continues.

 Some immediate actions will still be needed. We will suggest these action proposals for the immediate next stage of struggle for a spiritually and ethically rooted immigration policy for the United States. AND --  we need to look more deeply into the ethics of “immigration” around the world as it morphs into great waves of refugees desperate for safety, on the one hand, and on the other hand into tidal waves of hypernationalist fear of losing a national culture and sense of identity.


The immediate and the deeper questions are connected. The deep moral collision over ripping children out of their families has been a lightning flash in the dark, lighting up the deeper issues beneath. But like a lightning flash, it may vanish before we can attune our eyes to see the deeper truths and questions.


We want to pursue those questions without losing sight of the most urgent needs exploding every day along the US, German, and many other borders. Reluctantly, we see the need to separate these immediate action needs from the deeper exploratory needs. For our action proposals, see <>. Below is a deeper  exploration of the dark behind the lightning flash. 


^^^^^^    ^^^^^^

Our Hidden Cruelties  & New-Found Kindnesses --  Now Visible

[Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I were the initial drafters of this Shalom Report petition about the crisis of US government action to tear apart families at the border. Rabbi Berman was the founder (1979) and director through 2016 of the Riverside Language Program, an intensive English-language  school for newly arrived immigrants and refugees.


It has been modified in consultation with its initial signers: Sahar Ahlsalani, co-president of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; Cherie Brown of the National Coalition-Building Institute; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the American Jewish University; Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, president of Ohalah: Rabbinical Association for Jewish Renewal; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, member of the Board of Truah;  Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu/ Voices of Our Lives, member of the Board of Truah; Ruth Messinger of  American Jewish World Service; Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St Louis; Rev. Nancy Taylor of Old South Church in Boston; Rev. Rick Ufford-Chace and Kiitty Ufford-Chhase of Stony Point Retreat Center; Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Uri L'Tzedek. --Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]

 In hundreds of vigils and millions of letters, phone calls, and emails, we have witnessed a deep level of moral outrage that has responded to the forcible splitting of families and traumatization of children by agencies of our Government.

Not only outrage but action as well has been bubbling over. Later in this essay we offer forms of action that would express compassion in the means we choose as well as the ends we seek. Only compassion can cure cruelty.

 A wide wave of religious folk stand in and with that outpouring. Specific sacred verses from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and other Scriptures speak to this moment.

One leading official of the United States Government has claimed that biblical calls to obey the law are paramount here.  We affirm that the Bible actually speaks the contrary.

Some officials are saying – even boasting -- that the policy was deliberately intended by its ruthlessness to deter families from coming to the United States, seeking asylum because of well-founded fears that their lives and the lives of their children are in immediate danger if they were to stay in Central American countries that have been overwhelmed by violence.

But the Bible sees the world through God’s commitment to justice and compassion: "You shall not hand over to their masters slaves [or, some translators say, “serfs”]  who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them. You shall not maltreat them.”   (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16)

Of course neither the biblical understanding of serfdom, indentured servitude, or slavery nor the experience of these refugees today, fleeing murder and rape and seeking asylum, is identical with the past of chattel slavery in the United States. Yet their experience bears elements of the same ruthless and violent subjugation. And this biblical verse is uncanny in its direct address of the crisis we face now, even more than other, broader teachings about love and justice for “foreigners.”

  And the “law” that Attorney-General Sessions cites to subjugate love and destroy our families is not law at all. It is a policy concocted by elements of the present US government that actually violates the law. It is intended to keep asylum-seekers from making their case as they are entitled to do both by US law and the binding law of the land, embedded in treaties the US has ratified. 

 It is about “laws” like these that the Bible speaks and Isaiah (10:2) cries out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

Out of exactly that Prophetic outlook, Jesus broke the law, nonviolently.  That’s why he was crucified. Does the fact that the Roman Empire crucified Jesus mean that it is legitimate for the United States Government to destroy the lives of children and parents? Or does it mean exactly the opposite?

There is a reason that one of the key moments in the story of Pharaoh is when he orders babies killed  (Exodus 1: 15-22 ). And in the Christian story, one of the key moments is when Herod orders children killed in the “Massacre of the Innocents.”  (Matthew 2: 16; imagined below). Those are the moments when a tyrant becomes monstrous.

Outrage at these actions comes from a very deep gut level. The “prime directive” for every species, including the human species, is to make sure the next generation thrives. The children! You can only rip children away from their families by dehumanizing the people you are facing. Down that path lies genocide.

The cruelty we are witnessing is being blatantly exposed as intrinsic to racism and militarism. All societies face the dangerous impulse to exalt only their own culture as fully human and treat others as sub-human. Indeed, for centuries, American policy has ripped the children of enslaved Africans, African-Americans, and Native Americans away from their families. 

 But the vision and hope of the Bible, the Quran, and other sacred wisdom is summed up in the Bible’s teaching,  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39)  and  the Quran’s teaching (49:13):  “O humankind, We have created you from a single pair of male and female [as one family], and appointed you diverse cultures and communities, that you may get to profoundly understand one another [not to despise one another].” 

Centuries of struggle between carrying out this ultimate religious wisdom and descending into dehumanizing “the Other” have been like a case of blood poisoning that at first is hidden and then breaks through into the bright red streak of inflammation that signals extreme danger. We have seen those red streaks before, and we see them now. 

 Does all this mean the opening of US borders to an unknown unbounded number of refugees, without limits or planning? No. There are solutions rooted in compassion, not subjugation. Here, for example, might be one approach:


Ripping Children from Parents: Torah vs. Trumpery

Last night I took part in the coming-together of about a thousand people, jamming both sides of the street for a city block at the local ICE office in Philadelphia.  (“ICE” = “Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”)

On barely 24 hours notice, all of them were protesting the actions of ICE to disrupt families on the southern US border, to traumatize distraught kids and parents.  I’ve been to dozens of vigils, rallies, and whatnot in Philadelphia, and there were hundreds of people at this one whom I had never met. There were two hours of home-made signs, chants, songs, tears, many many very short speeches by people who came up from the crowd. (This sign, "You've got ICE Where Your Hearts Should Be," was made and carried by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.)


People are outraged by what has been happening. It’s the highest level of outrage I’ve seen this whole 18 months. People can identify with what it’s like to have children ripped away from their families. 

And the outrage comes from a very deep gut level. The “prime directive” for every species, including the human species, is to make sure the next generation thrives. The children. You can only rip children away from their families by dehumanizing the people you are facing. Down that path lies genocide.

There is a reason that one of the key moments in the story of Pharaoh is when he orders babies killed. And in the Christian story, when Herod orders children killed. That is the moment when a tyrant becomes a monstrosity. 

--- All the atrocities we are facing, all the issues in tte "Fusion Politics" of the "Call for a Moral Revival" put forward by the Poor Peoples Campaign, come to a head in this moment.  The cruelty we are witnessing is being blatantly exposed as integral to racism & militarism. It is like a blood poisoning that at first is hidden and then breaks through into the bright red streak of inflammation that signals extreme danger.  And for the sake of traumatized children --  who,  we now know, actually have their brain structures damaged by trauma -- it is urgent to act.

Clear demands: 1) The immediate end of all separations of families and the immediate admission to probationary asylum of families from Honduras, El Salvador and other Central American countries that are under extreme pressure of  violence, while their cases are investigated; (2) Immediate impeachment and removal of the head  of ICE and the Secretary of Homeland Security

This is what a true morality looks like:


Effective politics, including fusion politics, is always about knowing where the cutting edge is in which our side of the slice is much bigger than the other side of it. I think this is it. The Trumpist behavior is absolutely consistent, and I think they have gone too far.

Yesterday an organizer asked me:

"What would you say to [ICE agents]  if you could talk to them directly. Not the bosses, but the line workers. What would you say to them?"

My answer: 

Do you have children? Grandchildren? How would you feel if they were ripped away from you or from your kids, if it’s grandchildren we are talking about,  and sent to a fenced-in jail? No contact with their parents, no information on what happened to them? Who is feeding the baby who was literally yanked off his or her mother’s breast, nursing? Who is changing diapers, holding them when they cry?  

Could you bear it if you were the target, not the enforcer? Can you bear it if you are the enforcer? Could you read Exodus I: 15-22  (about Pharaoh’s order to kill children, and how a couple of women resisted.) Could you read Matthew 2:16 (about Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents)? Could you read Deuteronomy 23: 15-16 (about welcoming runaway slaves to live wherever they want in the land)? What could you personally do to stop it? Could you talk with your co-workers? Could you get five or six of them, along with you, to simply stop doing it?

Attorney-General Sessions has just defended his actions by citing biblical passages that counsel obeying the law. But first of all, he and ICE have construed the law so as to prohibit asylum-seekers from making their case. He has invented the law that he then insists that refugees obey. Indeed, his behavior itself violates the law – the Treaty on Asylum and Refugees carved out after World War II and the experience of Jews who were denied asylum.  And there is no law requiring ICE to rip children from their families.  

For the Bible, laws imposed by an unjust and unaccountable government are not the standard for behavior.  Isaiah (10:2) cried out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

What is more, out of exactly that outlook, Jesus broke the law, nonviolently.  That’s why he was crucified. Does that mean it’s OK for the United States to destroy the lives of children and parents because Rome crucified Jesus? Or does it mean exactly the opposite?

Moreover, if Mr. Sessions wants to quote the Bible, let us quote him this:

"You shall not hand over to their masters slaves who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them; you shall not maltreat him.”   (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16)

We might call this to the attention of his down-home folks in Alabama and to his church in Washington DC  And in letters to our Members of Congress and Senators and to the editors of our newspapers. And to the workers at ICE offices all across America. We might – and we should.

For if the present government of the United States has chosen to become the Pharaohs of old and the Roman Caesars of old --  tyrants, murderers, and monsters --  then it is time for a Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.

National organizers of the protests seem to be Families Belong Together

And we do not need to wait for a national plan to respond to Pharaohs and Caesars on our own. ICE exists everywhere.  And so do we.

“Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God"

Dear friends, I am sharing this message with you all, and I hope you will  forward it, sharing it with your friends and colleagues. —  I especially call your attention to the call below for religious and spiritual communities to invite airport workers to obey US law, international law, & Biblical law (rather than a cruel unlawful decree) by admitting refugees.  

 Shalom, salaam! —  Arthur

Injunction Against  Refugee Deportations, Yes!

Airport Protests all across America –-- Also Yes!

The Shalom Center welcomes the temporary injunction issued by a brave Federal judge against Trump’s cruel and unlawful decree forcing refugees and legal immigrants with valid visas to return whence they came.

 But the injunction is both temporary and limited; it does not yet require officials to allow into the US those who have been illegally prohibited and detained.

So we strongly urge and support continuing and growing protests at the airports and against the President’s decree. 

The legal system moves against tyranny and toward justice and freedom only when the People go into the streets.


Signs from a demonstration of thousands at JFK Airport: "We are all Immigrants"; "First They Came for the Muslims, but I am Speaking Out."  Meanwhile, additional thousands have gathered  at O'Hare, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dulles, and dozens of other airports.

The Shalom Center strongly endorses these actions.

 There are three levels of law as well as human decency that Trump has violated by his cruel and illegal decree against refugees and legal immigrants.

 First, at a secular level in which the law actually upholds human decency and prohibits what Trump has done:

(1)      In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson at the foot of the Statue of Liberty,  specifically forbade discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas based on “race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.”

(2) By making "minority religions" in the seven countries exceptions to the ban, Trump has clearly singled out Islam as bad -- violating the First Amendment command of religious freedom and prohibition of establishing any religion – that is, favoring one over others.

(3) The Refugee Convention of 1954, as amended by the Protocol of 1971, to which the US adhered (partly in horrified memory of nations' including the US having prevented entry of Jewish refugees in the 1930s) REQUIRES allowing refugees to enter. Such treaties are according to the Constitution the law of the land, i.e. US law. The Convention  provides:


“The contracting states shall not --

·     ·  discriminate against refugees (Article 3)

  • ·  take exceptional measures against a refugee solely on account of his or her nationality (Article 8)
  • ·  impose penalties of refugees who entered illegally in search of asylum if they present themselves (Article 31)
  •    expel refugees (Article 32)"

Trump has violated his oath to preserve, protect & defend the Constitution (which the Framers understood was even more crucial, and more likely to be ignored by a near-monarchical President, than physical defense of the US) and should be impeached now.

Secondly, for those of us who learn from the Bible what God and human decency require: What does the Bible say about refugees from despotic governments or civil wars?

Torah commands (Deut 23: 16-17): "You shall not deliver to their master slaves who have escaped from their master to you; they shall dwell with you, in your midst in whatever place they shall choose within your gates, where they feel best; you shall not oppress them."

This photo shows Rabbi Phyllis Berrman and me at a high-spirited demonstration today (Jan 29) of 300-500 people at Miami International Airport:


CHANTS: “No hate, no fear; Refugees are welcome here!”  “We are what democracy looks like.” “US freedom is for all; No ban, no wall!”  “No Trump, no KKK; no racist USA!"

One of the slogans of the American Revolution was:  “Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God!" Never more appropiate than now.

I suggest that churches, synagogues, mosques appeal to airport workers, including TSA officers –-  to let refugees & valid visa-bearers through, in nonviolent civil disobedience of the cruel Trumpist decree.



With blessings of compassion  and commitment, that the plagues the Trumpist government is bringing upon our country and the world be nullified and healed by the strength of our values and our action, rooted in the Interbreathing Spirit Who weaves all life together.

Please forward this letter to your friends and colleagues.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow 

Election Issues & a Torah Yardstick

As we take a Momentous Step into the Voting Booth

Dear friends, I assume that practically all of you have already decided how you will vote for President and Congress. The issues that have stirred our country during this campaign will not go away on November 9, and I thought you might be interested to recall how Torah addresses some of the major issues before us.

Indeed, when we on the staff and Board of The Shalom Center looked into this, we were often surprised to realize that the ancient teachings address issues that might seem 21st-century questions.  So we are sharing these teachings not only out of concern for the American future, but also out of respect and admiration for the Biblical and Rabbinic past

Yet of course the future matters. This election, perhaps more than any since the election of 1860, forces us to choose between two radically different visions of the American future and the future of Mother Earth. To choose the world our children will live in. They are watching, listening, wondering. Peering, as it were, into our voting booths.


 ISSUE: What policies should we adopt to deal with the increasing distance between the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor in the U.S.? Here we present several different biblical texts.  They all see extreme economic inequality as troublesome, but they propose several different approaches. 

Lady Liberty Lifts High the Lamp of Hanukkah

Lady Liberty in NY Harbor, focused on the Lamp she lifts

Ancient Torah: “You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose, among the settlements in your midst, wherever he chooses. You must not oppress him.”  (Deut. 23:16-17.) Modern Torah: "New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" As our Festivals of Light approach in this season of darkness,  we can light every light from this Lamp of Liberty. 1.  Jewish congregations can this Hanukkah (from the night of December 6 through the night of December 13) invite Christians and Muslims to share in kindling the Light of Liberty.  2. We can all make our Lady Liberty the symbol of a new commitment to welcome the persecuted. Copy the photograph above with these words that accompany it; share them with your friends, pin them on your doors, send them through the Internet.  3. We can commit one morning of Hanukkah to call the US Capitol at 202/244-3121, ask for each of our own two  Senators, and urge them to reject these odious attacks that pretend to be attacking refugees, or immigrants, or Muslims – but are really attacking America the Beautiful -- “O beautiful for patriots’ dream that sees beyond the years/ Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!” Hanukkah reminds us: We can free ourselves from tyrannies today, making ourselves nonviolent Maccabees. Hanukkah reminds us: We can make one day's oil fulfill the needs of eight days' worth of living, instead of so recklessly burning oil that its fumes burn up the Earth, our common home.  Hanukkah reminds us: there is a connection between trampling on "outsiders" and choking off the air that breathes all life. Hanukkah reminds us: there is a connection between nurturing the tender shoots of freedom and nurturing the endangered seeds of Earth. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ For me this is a deeply personal issue, as well as a profoundly public one. On Sunday afternoon December 6, just before the first night of Hanukkah, my beloved life-partner, co-author, co-teacher, co-learner Rabbi Phyllis Berman will be celebrating her retirement from 36 years as founder-director of a unique school for refugees and immigrants. (If you want to join in that celebration and/ or support the school, click to-- ) All those years, I have heard and seen her work to teach the English that makes it possible

Amalek Today: To Remember, To Blot Out

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Ki Tetze is a portion of great compassion (Deut 21: 10 to 25:19):

Compassion for the poor person who cannot redeem a debt-pledge, for your neighbor who might fall from the unprotected roof of your house, for your enemy whose sheep has wandered away, for a mother bird who is sitting on her eggs. –- Then suddenly there is this puzzling, paradoxical command:

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